Focus Interview: Caragh Thuring

Experimental fiction, speculative portraits and shifting contexts

ALICE BUTLER Critics have been announcing the death of painting for decades now. How far are you looking to subvert this death wish?

CARAGH THURING I’m aware of that discourse, of course, but it doesn’t interest me: it just exists. I choose to make paintings because it’s the freest thing you can do, in that you’re dealing with nothing, and you have to construct something out of that nothing: there’s a complete freedom in what form the object takes. If you make sculpture, for instance, you immediately know what your material is, and there’s a lot of baggage that comes with making something that already exists on its own terms.

Rope_crop.jpg

Rope, 2013, oil, gesso and graphite on linen, 47 × 38 cm. All images courtesy: Thomas Dane, London, and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

Rope, 2013, oil, gesso and graphite on linen, 47 × 38 cm. All images courtesy: Thomas Dane, London, and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

AB     Is this ‘freedom’ connected to painting’s formal limitations?

CT     That could be one element of it but I think it’s more the fact that there’s nothing to aid you. You’re completely free to construct a separate imaginary within it, to build narrative aspects, or it can actually be about nothing. Painting is a very slow thing, while everyday existence is so sped up: whether it’s the way we experience art or how we digest stuff – our friends, the environment, the economy. Painting demands investigation. If people want to say it’s irrelevant, then that’s a source of freedom, because you are then located outside of what people expect.

AB     I was wondering whether the bare linen in your paintings is intended to reveal the materiality of the object, or expose the artistic process …

CT     The linen is there because I hated having to obliterate these surfaces, to prime the canvas in order to get whiteness. The linen is a neutral, nondescript material; it gives a background to the work, functioning like a piece of paper, ready for drawing. Painting can be so laboured, but art doesn’t exist without embarrassment; you have to allow yourself to be laid bare, and to reveal what’s involved in that. The linen is functional: I’m not straining for any great narrative in what that material or that choice of material represents. I’m looking to get beyond those narratives, to go to the essence of something else.

AB     There are suggestions of narrative, however: signifiers such as clothing, or even titles. For example, your early painting Ford Plant (2008) offers up a setting in which to root ourselves, but these are only suggestions – fragmented images, like an experimental novel.

CT     I don’t contrive to construct a narrative through painting, but it’s interesting what you say about it being like an experimental novel. I did a performance recently in which I culled lots of written ephemera and constructed a text using these cut-ups, which was then read aloud by an actor. I had J.G. Ballard in mind. The idea was that the performance told a story around the work, but was not directly about the work. I’m not interested in constructing readable vignettes within painting, but rather in how little traces of things might trigger interpretation. Around the time of Ford Plant, I was looking at the industrial landscape and social geography of Detroit. Without making it into a directly legible narrative, I wanted to explore how that imagery can be magically present in the painting. It’s an edit of the ‘real’, a distraction.

06,-2013.jpg

Portrait, 2013, oil and gesso on canvas, 1.4 x 1 m. All images courtesy Thomas Dane, London, and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

Portrait, 2013, oil and gesso on canvas, 1.4 x 1 m. All images courtesy Thomas Dane, London, and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

AB     That reminds me of the way in which, for your exhibition ‘Assembly’ in 2009 at Simon Preston Gallery in New York, you installed the works against their chronology, suggesting the illusion of a jigsaw puzzle. Was this intended as a challenge to the viewer?

CT     It was partly about that and partly about challenging myself. When I made that exhibition I had this feeling that everything I was making was quite disparate: no continuity or self-reflexivity. To work with and against Édouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (1862–3) felt like the easiest way to avoid making something from scratch. I was so embarrassed by what it was I couldn’t even tell the gallery that’s what was arriving, until the absolute last minute.

AB     You’re obviously interested in the loadedness of the image as an art-historical reference. Is this built on the urge to appropriate?

CT     I would hope my work isn’t looked at in that way, because I don’t think that means anything. I use it as a vehicle to do something else. I’m looking to get beyond what already exists, and having the imagery in place enables that freedom. I look at a lot of old art – smutty medieval art in particular – and sometimes the research can take over. I don’t believe that there’s an artist who doesn’t look at these things. Everything is culled from other sources, so the only option is to add bits, fill in the gaps, put things together in your own way.

AB     Your more recent work, such as Brick Lady (2013), suggests a turn to the figurative.

CT     I’ve been thinking a lot about portraiture, and how objects might suggest or replace this kind of representation. My work is always dotted with people and the markings of human presence, but they come in and out of focus, in direct and indirect ways – so that a closed window (Portrait) or a rope hand rail (Rope, both 2013) might dominate the space claustrophobically, a blown-up suggestion of a body or person. However singular the subject, I’m interested in how the painting itself might house it in a different context. I am looking to construct speculative environments that the viewer can be involved with or spend time with; painting interrupts the speed of absorption. 

Caragh Thuring is an artist based in London, UK. Her solo show at Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco, USA, runs until 18 October.

Alice Butler is a writer based in London, and a PhD researcher in Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester. Her work has been published in Cabinet, Art Monthly, gorse and frieze. In 2012, she was the winner of the Frieze Writer’s Prize. 

Issue 158

First published in Issue 158

October 2013

Most Read

If artificial intelligence were ever to achieve sentience, could it feasibly produce art? (And would it be good?)
The punk activist-artists have been charged with disruption after they charged the field during the France vs Croatia...
27 educators are taking the London gallery to an employment tribunal, demanding that they be recognized as employees
In further news: Glasgow School of Art to be rebuilt; Philadelphia Museum of Art gets a Frank Gehry-designed restaurant
Highlights from Condo New York 2018 and Commonwealth and Council at 47 Canal: the summer shows to see
Knussen’s music laid out each component as ‘precarious, vulnerable, exposed’ – and his conducting similarly worked from...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘You can’t reason with him but you can ridicule him’ – lightweight as it is, Trump Baby is a win for art as a...
Anderson and partner Juman Malouf are sorting through the treasures of the celebrated Kunsthistorisches Museum for...
From Capote to Basquiat, the pop artist’s glittering ‘visual diary’ of the last years of his life is seen for the first...
‘When I opened Monika Sprüth Galerie, only very few German gallerists represented women artists’
Can a ragtag cluster of artists, curators and critics really push back against our ‘bare’ art world?
In further news: German government buys Giambologna at the eleventh hour; LACMA’s new expansion delayed
Gucci and Frieze present film number two in the Second Summer of Love series, focusing on the history of acid house
Judges described the gallery’s GBP£20 million redevelopment by Jamie Fobert Architects as ‘deeply intelligent’ and a ‘...
Is the lack of social mobility in the arts due to a self-congratulatory conviction that the sector represents the...
The controversial intellectual suggests art would be better done at home – she should be careful what she wishes for
Previously unheard music on Both Directions At Once includes blues as imposing as the saxophonist would ever record
In further news: Macron reconsiders artist residencies; British Council accused of censorship; V&A to host largest...
In our devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities are we rushing blindly towards our own demise?
Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is...
An exhibition of performances at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, unfolds the rituals of sexual encounters
An art historian explains what the Carters’s takeover of the Paris museum says about art, race and power
Artist Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics lifts the lid on US museum board members and...
The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned
The Baltimore’s director on why correcting the art historical canon is not only right but urgent for museums to remain...
Serpentine swimmers complain about Christo’s floating pyramid; and Hermitage’s psychic cat is a World Cup oracle: the...
The largest mural in Europe by the artist has been hidden for 30 years in an old storage depot – until now
Alumni Martin Boyce, Karla Black, Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips on the past and future of Charles Rennie...
In further news: po-mo architecture in the UK gets heritage status; Kassel to buy Olu Oguibe’s monument to refugees
The frieze columnist's first novel is an homage to, and embodiment of, the late, great Kathy Acker
60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...
The British artist and Turner Prize winner is taking on the gun advocacy group at a time of renewed debate around arms...
The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018